By Dawn DeSart, ACE Steering Committee Member
June is Pride Month across the country. The month serves as a specific time to affirm and embrace our LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors with the dignity and equality each of us deserve and to celebrate our uniqueness.
Why June? June was designated Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising, which took place in late June and early July of 1969. In 1969, being gay was a crime in every state except Illinois, punishable by life in prison. Some gay men were castrated, others were lobotomized, and some were tortured with repeated shock treatments. If you were LGBTQIA+, life was dangerous and uncertain. Equal rights—human rights —were denied.
In the early hours of June 28,1969, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York, was a bustling hotspot for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to gather. For most patrons, the Stonewall Inn was considered a “safe space.” But on that early morning in June of 1969, New York City police raided the nightclub and cruelly beat, arrested, harassed, and stole cash from employees and patrons alike. After the brutal raid, hundreds came out to demonstrate against the police violence. The angry, loud protest lasted six days.
That day marked the beginning of the LGBTQIA+ equal rights movement and was supported by thousands of vocal allies of the LGBTQIA+ community.
One year later, on June 28,1970, for the first time in history, gay pride marches were held across the country to promote equal rights for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Gatherings were held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in other major cities across the country. LGBTQIA+ publications popped up. Groups were formed. Alliances were made. And the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies made it clear that they were done sitting on the sidelines to be victimized by a conservative government. They were standing up proudly and, for the first time, were demanding to be heard and to be treated as equals in society.
LGBTQIA+ Health Care Issues
Although the U.S. legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, there remain great challenges for the LGBTQIA+ community. One of those challenges is medical discrimination.
Eva-Genevieve (She, Her, Her’s) is a transgender woman who has faced medical discrimination. “My medical provider in Naperville denied me endocrinology services in 2016 specifically because I am transgender,” recalls Eva-Genevieve. “I was on Medicare at the time, and trans care was still mandated under Medicare, so they violated federal rules when denying me. They did not refer me to the endocrinologists for the help I needed. They said ‘no,’ and proceeded to cancel my diabetes education classes that were run by the endocrinology department.”
Merek (He, Him, His) identifies as a transgender man and gay. As a trans man, Merek understands what it’s like to be discriminated against, but also recognizes that he has been extremely fortunate to have so much support during his own transition.
Merek realized he was transgender during his sophomore year in high school. Before that, he didn’t truly feel like he identified as a woman and felt confused during his adolescence. With the love and support of his father, stepmother, sibling, friends, and his high school, he was able to utilize gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms. He began his medical transition during his last year of high school, when he took testosterone for more than a year, but ended the process when he realized he loved his femininity, as well.
“I began my medical transition during my final year of high school, when I took testosterone for at least a year,” says Merek. “In 2015, I got my breasts removed by (a doctor) in Ohio. My stepmom drove me to the procedure. My biological mother was not nearly as accepting, and she would refuse to use my pronouns and my chosen name. I haven’t seen her in a long time, and I think it’s for the best for my own mental health.”
Merek earned a master’s degree in social work and now works with LGBTQIA+ clients, helping them realize and accept their true identities and helping transgender individuals through their own, unique and personal journeys.
“As a white, cis female, even though I am a lesbian, my greatest calling is still to be an ally and an advocate,” says Naper Pride co-founder and Director of Health and Wellness, Anne Dempsey (She, Her, Her’s). “Of all the disparities in the LGBTQ community when it comes to health care, my brothers and sisters in black and brown communities are more severely impacted than I am. My trans and non-binary family are far more likely to get turned away from obtaining healthcare. But all LGBTQ members face a lack of culturally competent care.”
LGBTQIA+ and Health Care Disparities
According to Cigna Healthcare, the LGBTQIA+ population experiences health care disparities at far greater levels than the rest of the population due to several factors including the minority status of LGBTQIA+ people; not enough education and training of health care providers; a lack of clinical research of the population; restrictive health care benefits; few role models; and fear due to stigma, discrimination, and institutional bias in the health care system.
“We face stress caused by living in a society where LGBTQ people are subjected to violence and stigmatized simply for being who we are,” adds Dempsey, who is a licensed nurse. “Because of the intersectionality of the community, we may face several risk factors at once, such as being a black trans woman, who is also lesbian.”
Compounding the challenge of health care disparities, according to Cigna Healthcare, “LGBTQIA people are at higher risk of certain conditions, have less access to health care, and have worse health outcomes. These disparities are seen in the areas of behavioral health, physical health, and access to health care.”
“Lesbian women are far less likely to get Pap tests and mammograms,” reports Dempsey. “Young gay and bisexual men, especially those of color, disproportionately bear the burden of new HIV diagnoses. LGBTQ youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide. Transgender people of all ages experience higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, mental health issues, and suicide. We face higher rates of alcohol abuse, smoking, and other drug use.”
LGBTQIA+ people do, in fact, have a higher risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts, anxiety and other mood disorders, eating disorders, and alcohol, tobacco and drug use. LGBTQIA+ people are at greater risk for physical ailments, as well. Lesbian and bisexual women have higher rates of breast and cervical cancer, and transgender men and women are at greater risk of human papillomavirus infection. The LGBTQIA+ population is more likely to be obese, and gay and bisexual men are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
“Even when LGBTQ patients have access to health care, doctors can lack cultural competency or training to meet LGBTQ specific needs,” says Dempsey. “They oftentimes lack the will to try and are not mandated to receive specific training.”
Naper Pride is a local 501c(3) organization that grew out of the need for support systems for the LGBTQIA+ community and for people like Eva and Merek. The group strives to create a safe place for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and embraces the greater community of friends, neighbors, and allies, to promote the idea of One Naperville—One Community, a family-friendly community that is diverse, inclusive, and shares common values, visions, and goals. Under co-founders Anne Dempsey and her wife, Margie Wolf (She, Her, Her’s), Naper Pride has become a dynamic force in Naperville and its surrounding suburbs. Pre-pandemic, events included a Movie Night, a Gayme Night, an Interfaith Worship Service, and a Trans Day of Remembrance.
Prior to the pandemic, Naper Pride also hosted a health and wellness fair at First Congregational Church-UCC on Benton Avenue in Naperville in the Spring of 2019. The inaugural event hosted 40 vendors and more than 100 attendees. Though over 125 organizations requested participation in the event, there simply was no more room at the venue. Participating vendors included Howard Brown Health Center, HIV testing, legal services, adoption services, information on how to change your name or sex on your driver’s license, mental healthcare services, real estate groups, and dental services.
This year, Naper Pride plans to host its Health and Wellness Fair in early November in a larger venue to accommodate more vendors, attendees, and speakers.
Naper Pride will also host their inaugural Naper Pride Fest—Together Under the Big Top, a circus-themed music festival at Naper Settlement on September 11 and 12.
June is the month we celebrate LGBTQIA+ Pride, but every day of every month is a celebration of LGBTQIA+ diversity and inclusion. As Naper Pride co-founder Margie Wolf says, “June is just a month on the calendar. I’m gay 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Dawn DeSart is a member of the DuPage County Board representing District 5. She has spent her career as a journalist working in every field: newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. While at NBC5 in Chicago, Dawn earned five Emmy Awards for excellence in journalism. A graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, she has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. She also serves on Naper Pride’s Board of Directors.